Breaking News: WH Is Not Cooperating With U.S. Oversight Committee (Mike Flynn)

Never before, even during Watergate, even during Iran-contra, has there been as much blatant disregard for the law, as much blatant conflict-of-interest, as in the current administration. Blogger-friend Gronda has done an excellent job in recapping the latest in a long series of conflicts and ethics violations in the Trump administration. Please take a few minutes to read this synopsis, as I believe this has the potential to turn into a scandal of epic proportions in the coming days. Thank you, Gronda, for your excellent work and for permission to share!

Gronda Morin

Image result for images of elijah cummings Cummings/ Chaffetz

On 4/25/17, both the republican chair Jason Chafftez from Utah and the democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings from Georgia held a press conference to announce that the White House is refusing to cooperate with their investigation into the president’s former National Security Adviser ret. Lt. General Mike Flynn. The U.S, House Intelligence Committee members were requesting documents regarding what information the general disclosed as he was being vetted for this top post but the White House has refused to comply.

As per the 4/25/17 NCRM report by David Badash, “You Simply Cannot Take Money From Russia, Turkey, or Anybody Else’ Chaffetz Says

“House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings say it appears former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn took payments from Russia and Turkey and did not follow the law by asking for and receiving permission to do so. Chairman Chaffetz says if Flynn…

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Yet Another Poor Choice …

Last week, while we were intently focused on the bombing of an alleged Daesh hideout in Afghanistan, the increasing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, and Trump’s various incoherent tweets ‘n twits, there was other news, largely unnoticed.  This one crossed my radar yesterday ……

On Wednesday, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, formally announced Candice Jackson as deputy assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights, a position that does not require Senate confirmation. Ms. Jackson will act as assistant secretary in charge of the office until the position of secretary is filled. By law, she can serve in the position for only 210 days, however we have seen how Trump reverses laws with a swipe of his pen. DeVos has not yet selected a nominee, who would require confirmation by the Senate.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Education that is primarily focused on protecting civil rights in federally assisted education programs and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, handicap, age, or membership in patriotic youth organizations.

In the 2016 fiscal year, the office processed almost 17,000 civil rights complaints, and opened 4,000 investigations. In the days after the Trump administration rescinded the guidelines allowing transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, representing 60 organizations, sent a letter to Ms. DeVos asking for the next head of the civil rights office to have a track record of upholding student rights, and fighting systemic and individual cases of discrimination. The coalition, which includes organizations like the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. and the National Women’s Law Center, called it “one of the most significant decisions you and the president will make with regard to the civil rights of the nation’s students.”

Jackson has very little to qualify her for this position, as she has scant experience in the field of civil rights law. She is a longtime anti-Clinton activist and an outspoken conservative-turned-libertarian, who has denounced feminism and race-based preferences. She’s also written favorably about, and helped edit a book by an economist, Murray N. Rothbard (in line for a future Idiot of the Week award), who is strongly against both compulsory education and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

During her senior year at Stanford, Jackson complained that she was discriminated against because she was Caucasian, and said that “giving special assistance to minority students is a band-aid solution to a deep problem.”  Around the same time, she also condemned feminism, saying, “In today’s society, women have the same opportunities as men to advance their careers, raise families, and pursue their personal goals. College women who insist on banding together by gender to fight for their rights are moving backwards, not forwards. I think many women are instinctively conservative, but are guided into the folds of feminism before discovering the conservative community.”

While everyone is certainly entitled to their personal opinion, Ms. Jackson’s opinions appear to be the direct antithesis to the ideology and responsibility of the office she has been tasked to oversee, in a manner similar to other Trump advisory selections.

In 2005, Jackson wrote a book, titled Their Lives: The Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine, in which she criticized liberals for placing too much emphasis on helping women and people of color. She also wrote that sexual harassment laws and policies ignore “the reality that unwanted sexual advances are difficult to define.”  Hard to define? Interestingly, when a number of women accused Donald Trump of sexual assault and harassment during the presidential campaign, Jackson referred to the women as “fake victims” who were lying “for political gain,”

There is nothing in Jackson’s past to indicate that she would aggressively protect civil rights in schools and college campuses.  In fact, quite the opposite, since she appears to find sexual harassment “difficult to define”.

So, just as we asked why Scott Pruitt was selected to lead the very department (EPA) he had sued thirteen times, we must ask why a woman who does not appear to support civil rights was tapped to lead the Office of Civil Rights?  The answer, I believe, is two-fold.  First, Trump appears determined to undermine certain offices and administrative agencies by selecting people whose beliefs are 180° different from the purpose of the office.  Second, there is Ms. Jackson’s contribution to Trump’s campaign last year.  What did she contribute?

Jackson helped the Trump campaign connect with three of former president Bill Clinton’s accusers in order to invite them to the second presidential debate before which Trump held a press conference with them highlighting President Clinton’s ‘victimization’ of them. Also of benefit to the Trump campaign, Jackson highlighted Hillary Clinton’s former role as a public defender, during which she represented a man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl.  I firmly believe this position is a reward for the role she played in helping Trump in his smear campaign against Hillary Clinton.

Betsy DeVos’s first official policy act was to support the Trump administration’s decision to rescind the Obama administration’s federal guidance protecting the rights of transgender students. News organizations reported that DeVos was personally opposed to the action but went along with it. She went along … with a policy to which she was opposed.  What does this say about her willingness to fight for the rights of others?

The current administration has shown disdain for the enforcement of civil rights in the U.S. by the appointment of Jeff Sessions, a proven racist, to the office of Attorney General.  The selection of Jackson to lead, albeit temporarily, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is yet another slap in the face to the rights, of women, minorities, and the LGBT community.

Bye-Bye Bannon …

The Federal government is now filled with newbies who do not understand the jobs to which they have been assigned, do not understand governance, and are highly unqualified for the positions they occupy.  This includes the president, vice president and nearly all cabinet members, as well as other advisors.  They came into office thinking they would make their own rules as they went along, but after nearly three months, they are finding that actions have consequences, and appear to be floundering like fish out of water, while at the same time trying to cover their foibles and give the appearance that this is all part of some grand plan.  Today’s ‘breaking news’ is further evidence of this.

Almost immediately after his inauguration, Trump announced a move that was considered by many to be both dangerous and stupid.  He reorganized the National Security Council by elevating his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and demoting the director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

nscThe National Security Council was established in 1947 by President Harry Truman.  Its primary function is to advise and assist the president on national security and foreign policy issues. It was created because policymakers felt that the diplomacy of the State Department was no longer adequate to contain the USSR in light of the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States.

bannon-2

Steve ‘Breitbart’ Bannon

Steve Bannon, who has been considered Trump’s closest advisor, is a member of the alt-right, a known racist, white-supremacist, neo-Nazi, islamaphobe.  He is the ‘former’ CEO of Breitbart, though most speculate he is still calling the shots there.  He has absolutely zero experience in governance, and nothing in his background qualified him for a position on the Principals Committee of the National Security Council.

Today, Bannon was removed from the National Security Council, and theories about the reason are not in short supply.  The Joint Chiefs chairman and intelligence director are having their roles as “regular attendees” of the Principals Committee restored.  So … what prompted this move?  It depends on who you ask.  Here are a few:

Steve Bannon“Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration. I was put on to ensure that it was de-operationalized. General McMaster has returned the NSC to its proper function.”

Amy Siskind: “BREAKING: Bannon is off the National Security Council! If I’m a betting woman, with the world in chaos, I’d bet McMaster finally told Trump my way or I’m gone!”

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labour, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley:  “Trump reorganized his National Security Council today, removing his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, from the NSC’s principals committee. Translated: Bannon screwed up so badly on the healthcare bill that Jared and Ivanka have maneuvered to reduce Bannon’s influence on Trump, at least for the time being. But the White House continues to be such as cesspool of back-stabbing intrigue and chaos that Bannon could be back any moment.”

David Rothkopf, CEO and editor of the FP group, which publishes Foreign Policy magazine: “I think if you give somebody with no experience and a political agenda, and a dubious one at that, a permanency, it casts the on-demand participation of the chairman of joint chiefs and director of national intelligence in a very different light, because it’s saying, ‘We are not prioritizing professional expertise; we’re prioritizing political agenda.’ “

A number of White House officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Bannon’s sole purpose on the NSC was to keep an eye on (former) National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn, who was terminated within days of accepting his position due to lying about conversations he had in December with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.  This explanation makes no sense, because if Trump did not trust Flynn and felt he required a watch dog, why did he choose Flynn in the first place?  However, I have quit looking for anything coming out of this administration to make sense, so who knows?

McMaster

Gen. H.R. McMaster

My opinion has no more merit than any of those listed above (except Bannon, as he is speaking the party line), but for what it is worth, I believe National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster may have convinced Trump, either with logic (who am I kidding???) or with threat of resignation.  Before McMaster was selected to replace Flynn, Retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward was selected, but turned down the position because it was made clear that he would lack any degree of autonomy, and not even be allowed to select his own staff.  Perhaps McMaster has taken a tough stand on this issue, and it is certainly understandable why he would not want Bannon, who has nothing to contribute, taking up space on the committee while the important people take a backseat.

McMaster is one of the very few people in this administration who is both qualified for the position and seems to be of good character.  Even a majority of Democratic senators voted to confirm him last month in a vote of 86-10.  I was first impressed by McMaster in February when he pushed back against Trump’s insistence on using the term “radical Islamic terrorism”, saying it is not helpful to the U.S. in working with allies to defeat global terrorism.  It said that he has the courage to stand by his convictions and to stand up to Trump.

We may never know exactly what drove the strange scenario as to why Bannon was given a place on the Principals Committee, then removed less than three months later, but I cannot help wondering if this may signal a cooling of the relationship between Trump and Bannon.  If so, that can only be seen, I think, as a good thing.  Bannon is a loose cannon, a self-professed Leninist who has said he wants to “bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” 

cautionOne word of caution … let us not get so distracted pondering the causes and effects of Bannon’s removal from the NSC that we take our eye off the ball … the main issue … the Russian connections between Team Trump and Team Putin.

trump-putin

Finally … A Good Pick? Maybe …

Last night (Wednesday), Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labour, Andrew Puzder, withdrew from consideration. The reason is likely that he did not have a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving his confirmation hearing, scheduled for Thursday, after even Mitch McConnell, the chief boot-licker in Congress, said that Puzder could not possibly win enough votes for confirmation.  I wrote about Puzder  back in early January, and did not view him as a good fit for the office.  But my concerns, such as the fact that he is against raising minimum wage rates, supports repealing ACA, criticizes sick leave policies, and uses sexist advertising in his businesses, are not what doomed his nomination.  No, what doomed his nomination was that he came out in support of legalized immigration!  The man finally said one thing that made sense, and he is politically murdered for it!  No less than seven Republican senators said they would not vote to confirm Puzder.  Five of these seven actually voted to confirm the likes of DeVos and Sessions, however.

But Puzder is gone … good riddance … and this brings me to a potential bright spot on the otherwise dark horizon:  Alexander Acosta, Trump’s choice to replace Puzder as nominee for Secretary of Labour.  Everything I have read about Mr. Acosta points to a man who seeks to serve justice rather than to ‘win at all costs’.  He appears to be a man who has the courage of his convictions, and I only wish he had been nominated for the position of Attorney General rather than the racist lout who was placed in that all-important position.

A bit about Acosta’s background:

  • He is a Harvard Law School graduate who clerked for Judge Samuel Alito, at that time a judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, for a year after graduation.
  • He then worked for a D.C. law firm where he specialized in employment and labor issues.
  • Appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he served on the National Labour Relations Board.
  • In 2003, he was appointed Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.
  • In 2005, he was appointed United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where he served until 2009.
  • Since 2009 he has served as Dean of dean of Florida International University College of Law.
  • In 2012, Acosta participated in a panel discussion called Immigration Policy and the Hispanic Workforce, and he talked about the importance of creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

I am particularly impressed by the stands he has taken in the area of civil rights, particularly the rights of immigrants.  In 2011, Acosta testified before Congress about the importance of protecting the civil rights of Muslim Americans. He said to the committee that “we are a nation build [sic] on principles of freedom, and high on the list of freedoms is freedom of religious expression. Indeed, as is well known to this Committee, this freedom pre-dates our Constitution.”  He goes on to talk about the importance of the president speaking up to defend Muslims.

“Our nation is strong because we respond to attack with resolve. History has shown the need, however, for leadership that tempers resolve with wisdom. President George W. Bush understood this, when on September 17, 2001, he visited the Islamic Center of Washington D.C. to remind a resolute nation that ‘those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger…should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.’ This was not the message many Americans wanted to hear at that time, but the President chose to lead, rather than to be led.” 

The senate has confirmed Acosta three times in the past, which is certainly encouraging, however the Acosta nomination is not without problems.  The main one is likely to be the controversy over a plea bargain his office arranged in 2008 when he was a federal prosecutor in Miami.  A case was brought against wealthy financier, Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire investor accused of having sex with underage girls.  Acosta agreed not to file any federal charges if Epstein pled guilty to state charges involving soliciting prostitution and soliciting a minor for prostitution. Epstein served 13 months of an 18 month sentence.  The controversy came about because the teenagers Epstein paid for sex were never adequately consulted about the plea deal or given an opportunity to object to it. Not surprisingly, Trump has ties also to Epstein and while some claim that Trump and Epstein were friends, Trump denies it.

Setting the above controversy aside for the moment, it would otherwise seem that Acosta is, unlike all other Trump nominees, a good fit for the job.  He is an advocate of civil rights, and has served in various labour-related positions, including the NLRB. So what, exactly, does the position of Secretary of Labour involve?

According to the United States Department of Labour:

“The Department of Labor (DOL) fosters and promotes the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States by improving their working conditions, advancing their opportunities for profitable employment, protecting their retirement and health care benefits, helping employers find workers, strengthening free collective bargaining, and tracking changes in employment, prices, and other national economic measurements. In carrying out this mission, the Department administers a variety of Federal labor laws including those that guarantee workers’ rights to safe and healthful working conditions; a minimum hourly wage and overtime pay; freedom from employment discrimination; unemployment insurance; and other income support.”

I am not sure to what extent the Epstein controversy will play a role in Acosta’s confirmation hearings.  For the final conclusion, you will have to … stay tuned!

Another White House Ghoul

Yet another of Trump’s top advisors that I have largely ignored is Stephen Miller.  But in the past few days he is flying around on my radar and making me very uncomfortable, so it is time to take a closer look at Mr. Miller.

Miller’s career path has not been what I would call illustrious.  He served as communications director for former senator and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which certainly does nothing to raise him in my esteem.  He was also press secretary for former Representative Michele Bachmann (former Idiot of the Week and also America’s #1 Bimbo), which again, is not a feather in his cap.  And now, Mr. Miller is a “senior advisor” to Donald Trump.

millerThough raised by two liberal, Democratic parents, he became a conservative while in high school after reading a book, Guns, Crime, and Freedom, by National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre. While still in high school, he started appearing on conservative talk radio shows and writing letters to editors.  While attending Duke University, he criticized poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, accusing her of “racial paranoia”, and also established a relationship with white supremacist, anti-Semitic Richard Spencer, about whom I have written before.   A former advisor at Duke later said of Miller that he, “seemed to assume that if you were in disagreement with him, there was something malevolent or stupid about your thinking — incredibly intolerant.”  Sound familiar?

Which brings us to present day.  As ‘Senior Advisor’, Miller was not subject to confirmation by the senate, and therefore officially began his new position on January 20th.  Until late last week, Miller kept a fairly low profile, or perhaps was simply overshadowed by Trump’s immigration ban and all the controversy it entailed, as well as the contentious confirmation hearings for DeVos and Sessions, among others.  But late last week, his name started appearing more often.

When the infamous ‘immigration ban’, banning people from entering the country from seven specific, Middle-Eastern, primarily Muslim countries was first signed into law, I was fairly certain its author was none other than Steve ‘Breitbart’ Bannon.  Turns out that Stephen Miller, Jeff Sessions and Bannon all corroborated on the order.  Three bloomin’ racists putting their big heads together … imagine the possibilities.

Once the travel ban was halted by U.S. District Judge James Robart, and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate the ban, Miller adamantly defended Trump’s crude and hateful criticism of the judge.  (It should be noted that, emboldened by Trump’s very unprofessional tweets condemning Judge Robart, the judge has been a target of many threats, including one referring to Robart as “dead man walking”.  This, people, is the president we elected.)  But back to Miller … he appeared yesterday morning on the Sunday morning talk show circuit, including an interview on ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos where he told so many lies that The Washington Post wrote an entire fact-checking article  disproving nearly everything he said on the program.  Other questions he simply averted, as is the standard operating procedure for the Trump team.  Alternative facts and non-answers.  Click here  for the transcript of the entire interview. He later did another interview on CBS’ Face the Nation where he spouted more of the same.

Miller defends Trump’s verbal (Twitter) attacks on Judge Robart and the appeals court, supports and falsely claims knowledge of Trump’s assertion of massive voter fraud, and of the travel ban says that “all options are on the table”.  Despite, or perhaps because of his lies and evasions, Trump was proud of his boy Stephen, tweeting, “Congratulations Stephen Miller- on representing me this morning on the various Sunday morning shows. Great job!” just minutes after the segment aired.

CNN considers that Miller may be the most powerful player in the White House, and I think that, in conjunction with Steve Bannon, that may well be true.  Certainly he is, with his racist views and links to white supremacists, one of the most frightening.  Glenn Thrush of the New York Times said, “The (Steve) Bannon cluster in the White House is moving full speed ahead in part because they don’t feel like they have a lot of time, and I think if you look at the backlash against the travel ban, they may not have that much time.”

The most immediately concerning thing to me is that Trump, Bannon, Miller and others seem to believe that the courts have overstepped their bounds in placing constitutionality over the power of the president.  The appeals court last week asked repeatedly for some evidence that there was a real threat of danger from the seven countries listed in the ban, but the Justice Department, which was defending the administration’s position, could not provide such evidence.  If the Trump administration ultimately has their way on this issue, it may set a powerful precedent for future cases where Trump and his minions make decisions that are unconstitutional and not in the best interest of the nation.  If the court’s power is reduced and the power of the executive office increased, we will have taken the first step toward an autocracy … a step that may be nearly impossible to reverse.  Along with Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions, Stephen Miller may complete a triumvirate that is destined to change the values of this nation.

The Plot Thickens …

flynnOne of Trump’s cabinet picks that I have not written about yet is National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn.  I did not intentionally neglect him, but there are only so many hours in a day, and I simply had not gotten around to him.  Turns out, I should have. Flynn, a retired United States Army lieutenant general, served 33 years in the U.S. Army.  Trump named him to be National Security Advisor, a position which does not require the advice and consent of the Senate. Concerns about Flynn began almost immediately, for his purported close relations with Russia, and for his role in the smear campaign against Hillary Clinton, using fake news and conspiracy theories in an attempt to discredit Ms. Clinton.

Having already proven that he is not above playing dirty pool, it should come as no surprise that he may have significantly breeched a code of conduct and broken the law on Christmas Day, 2016, during a conversation with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.  That a conversation between Flynn and Kislyak took place on December 25th is verifiable fact.  The content of the conversation is what seems to be in dispute, and much is yet unknown.  However, I am a firm believer that when there is a lot of smoke in the house, you ought to call the fire department.  First, Flynn claimed that he only called Kislyak to wish him a “Merry Christmas”.  Then, it was said by the Trump transition team that the two discussed arrangements for a phone call between Trump and Putin.

Note that this was at a point during the final days of President Obama’s administration when he had a tough decision to make.  It had been confirmed that Russia was behind the hacking of the DNC and releasing confidential information that may have affected the election.  As of December 25th, President Obama had made the decision to impose sanctions on Russia, but had not yet done so.

Now comes the part that is not, as yet, verified, but that may well be a smoking gun.  According to nine “unnamed current and former national security sources”, Flynn allegedly gave Kislyak a ‘heads up’ that President Obama planned to impose sanctions, but not to worry, as Trump would remove them once he took office.

In January, Mike Pence stated that the two “did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.” Then as recently as Wednesday, Flynn was asked twice whether he had discussed the sanctions with Kislyak, to which he responded both times that he had not. Then the very next day, Thursday, Flynn’s spokesperson said that Flynn, “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”  He cannot remember if he discussed the forthcoming sanctions or not. This is where the trouble starts.

putinFour days after the conversation between Flynn and Kislyak, President Obama announced the sanctioning of Russian intelligence officials, expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats suspected of being spies and shutting down two Russian facilities in the United States. Many expected Putin to respond angrily and with retaliation, but instead he simply said, “It is regrettable that the Obama administration is ending its term in this manner. Nevertheless, I offer my New Year greetings to President Obama and his family.” It was puzzling, at the time, almost sinister, but if he already knew of the sanctions and knew they would soon be lifted, that would explain a lot. Trump, of course, condemned the president and praised Putin.

The FBI continues to investigate, and even if it can be proven that Flynn did, in fact, discuss the sanctions with Kislyak, the outcome is still uncertain. I cannot speculate. Flynn served under President Obama as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency until his firing (or resignation, depending on which version you read) in 2014, amid controversy about his chaotic management style (a good fit with his current boss, yes?).  Under another president, Flynn would likely be ousted if the accusations prove true, but under Trump, even the political analysts are not predicting what will happen.  Trump will almost certainly attempt to put some positive spin on the whole thing, but first you can bet that he will call it all ‘fake news’ by a ‘biased media’.  Meanwhile … stay tuned …

Congress Just Voted To Make America Stupid!

Under Article I, Section 5, clause 2, of the Constitution, a Member of Congress may be removed from office before the normal expiration of his or her constitutional term by an “expulsion” from the Senate (if a Senator) or from the House of Representatives (if a Representative) upon a formal vote on a resolution agreed to by two-thirds of the Members of that body present and voting.

The United States Constitution does not provide for nor authorize the recall of United States officers such as Senators, Representatives, or the President or Vice President, and thus no Member of Congress has ever been recalled in the history of the United States. The recall of Members was considered during the time of the drafting of the federal Constitution in 1787, but no such provisions were included in the final version sent to the states for ratification,

Around noon today, a banner flashed across my screen letting me know that Betsy DeVos had been confirmed as Secretary of Education.  While I knew this was the likely outcome, I am nonetheless angry and disappointed.  First, though, let me commend the two Republican senators who actually voted their conscience:  Senator Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, and Senator Susan Collins, of Maine. Hats off to them both. doffing-hat

Ms. DeVos is, as I outlined in a previous post,  the worst possible candidate for the position.  I will not reiterate my arguments, but will simply say that our not-so-illustrious Republicans in the Senate have just succeeded in ensuring that twenty years, forty years, sixty years from now, our population will be even less intelligent than it is today.  Once those of us who actually received an education that taught us to think for ourselves die off, there will be nothing left but self-focused, self-serving, narrow-minded people left in the U.S.  (Okay, perhaps that is a bit extreme, and the reader can use his/her better judgement to put it in perspective … I get to rant every now and then)

As you read above, there is no Constitutional means for the people who elected the senators responsible for the killing of American Education to remove them from office, and even if there were, I imagine that, like everything else, it would be a long, drawn-out process.  However it is, after just over a month, quite obvious that what we have in Congress is a collection of greedy, self-centered Republicans.  The slogan “Clean the Swamp” has taken on an entire new meaning, and these men and women are swamp rats the likes of which we have not seen before. What I suggest, then, is that we begin planning for future elections today!  The following eight Republican senators who voted to confirm DeVos will be seeking re-election in November 2018:

Arizona Jeff Flake Republican 2018
Mississippi Roger Wicker Republican 2018
Nebraska Deb Fischer Republican 2018
Nevada Dean Heller Republican 2018
Tennessee Bob Corker Republican 2018
Texas Ted Cruz Republican 2018
Utah Orrin Hatch Republican 2018
Wyoming John Barrasso Republican 2018

If only one of these individuals had considered the future of education in this nation, I would be writing an entirely different post today.  If just one of these men and women had voted their conscience rather than their wallets, we would have the opportunity to improve our education system.  But not a one of them had the courage of their convictions.  Not one of them. And why?  Check out the graphic below, which explains a lot:

devos-1

What can we expect under DeVos?  Certainly we can expect a significant percentage of the budget for K-12 education to be diverted away from the public schools that most of our children and grandchildren attend and earmarked for school vouchers and charter schools, which benefit a relative few.

  • Schools will not be able to afford to hire the ‘best and brightest’ teachers, those who motivate and inspire children rather than simply assigning lessons and following a set curriculum
  • Schools will be forced to cut programs such as art, music, and athletics that contribute to a well-rounded education
  • Schools will not be able to afford to replace aging textbooks with more updated versions.
  • Things like supplies, building supplies and maintenance, student meals … even playground equipment and maintenance will fall by the wayside

In addition, Special Education for children with special needs could well become a thing of the past. The following is an excerpt from the DeVos confirmation hearings last month:

Senator Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire): I want to go back to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. That’s federal civil rights law. So do you stand by your statement a few minutes ago that it should be up to the states whether to follow it?

Betsy DeVos: Federal law must be followed where federal dollars are in play.

Hassan: So were you unaware when I just asked you about the IDEA that it was a federal law? 

DeVos: I may have confused it.

One final note:  Charter schools and school vouchers tend to be religious schools, further reducing the diversity that is necessary to help our children grow to be less inclined toward bigotry in all its many forms.

And yet, FIFTY Republican senators lacked the cojones to say “No” to DeVos’ confirmation.  Of course, in addition to receiving funds from DeVos and her ‘philanthropist’ family, and in addition to being cowed by the bullying of Trump, these senators have no personally vested interest, as their children all attend private schools.

While most of the attention surrounding DeVos’ nomination has focused on K-12 education, it should be noted that her confirmation also puts her in charge of the nation’s trillion-dollar student loan program.  Though she has said little on the topic of higher education, she has criticized proposals for free college education and also for student debt elimination programs.

The U.S. currently ranks 115th worldwide in linguistic diversity, and 14th in education. The U.S. ranks only 7th in literacy worldwide.  I will be very curious to check those statistics in a few years, after DeVos has had time to implement her elitist policies.

Ms. DeVos’ confirmation is yet another huge black mark on our nation.  It is a sad day when we put the desires of a few above the needs of the many, yet that is exactly what was done today.  We cannot hope to remain a competitive and respected nation if we allow our system of education to fail the majority of students, which is precisely what Ms. DeVos has proposed.  Great job, Senators … the future of our nation rests on your consciences.

He Nominates A Conservative For SCOTUS … surprise

And now, the moment you have all been waiting for … after much anticipation, we finally know who Trump’s pick to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia is:  Neil Gorsuch.  Now, maybe you have heard of Gorsuch, maybe you haven’t, so let me give you a little brief bit of background on the man and his views, though it should suffice to say he is rich, white, and male, as have most all of Trump’s nominees for advisory and cabinet positions.

gorsuchNeil McGill Gorsuch is a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit since being appointed by President George W. Bush in 2006. Gorsuch has the typical pedigree of a high court justice. He graduated from Columbia, Harvard and Oxford, clerked for two Supreme Court justices and did a stint at the Department of Justice. He is a conservative, of course, and  ruled in the case of Zubik v Burwell, commonly known as the Hobby Lobby case, in which Gorsuch held that the requirement in the Affordable Care Act that employers provide insurance coverage for contraceptives without a co-pay violated the rights of those employers that object to use of contraceptives on religious grounds. His ruling was later overturned by the Supreme Court.

Gorsuch favours the death penalty and is a strict constitutional originalist.  A brief explanation of that term may be in order.  There are two theories in constitutional interpretation:

  1. Originalism is the idea that the Constitution should be interpreted from the point of view of the framers who created the document in 1787, and
  2. Pragmatism is the theory that in the 230 years since the Constitution was written, many changes have taken place in society and the nation that necessitate a broader interpretation

And that, folks, is pretty much all I know about Mr. Gorsuch.  You didn’t ask, but I thought the Hobby Lobby decision was a bad one, as it opened the door for a host of other discriminatory Laws on the grounds of ‘religious freedom’.  I do not support the death penalty.  I believe that the pragmatic approach to constitutional interpretation makes the most sense (I actually have a paper I wrote on this topic for a Constitutional Law class several years back, if anybody is interested … 🙂  ).  So, in at least three major areas I disagree with Gorsuch.  But then, we didn’t think Trump would pick a candidate who thought like Filosofa, did we?

Trump has made no secret of the fact that his choice to fill this seat would be one who would cast his vote to overturn Roe v Wade, so we must assume that there has already been conversation and agreement on that major issue between Trump and Gorsuch.  Again, I disagree on this topic, but nobody asked me.

The process to confirm Gorsuch:

  • Referral to the 20-member Judiciary Committee (11 Republicans & 9 Democrats)
  • Pre-hearing research where his background and past rulings will be reviewed
  • Confirmation hearing
  • Committee vote
  • Full Senate vote

The only stage where I see a possible stumbling block in the process is the final, the full senate vote.  Democratic senators can filibuster and force a 60-vote requirement for confirmation, and there are only 52 Republicans in the senate.  Given the fact that the Republicans effectively blocked President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, by refusing to even hold confirmation hearings, the Democrats in the senate are still bitter and not much in the mood to play nice.  Senators Chuck Schumer and Jeff Merkley have both vowed to oppose any nominee other than Garland, as have other Senate Democrats.  It could be interesting, but I suspect that at the end of the day, Trump will have his way in this as he has everything else in the last 12 days.

“In light of the unconstitutional actions of our new President in just his first week, the Senate owes the American people a thorough and unsparing examination of this nomination. I had hoped that President Trump would work in a bipartisan way to pick a mainstream nominee like Merrick Garland and bring the country together. Instead, he outsourced this process to far-right interest groups. This is no way to treat a co-equal branch of government, or to protect the independence of our Federal judiciary.” – Senator Patrick Leahy, Democratic Senator from Vermont, 31 January 2017

“The Senate should respect the result of the election and treat this newly elected president’s nominee in the same way that nominees of newly elected presidents have been treated.” – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, 30 January 2017

McConnell was outspoken in his refusal to hold confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland, yet he says this????

The reason the framers of the Constitution made Supreme Court positions lifetime appointments was to shield justices from partisanship.  They were intended to be accountable to their consciences rather than an electorate.  I am not sure that is the case today, especially in light of this nominee who, undoubtedly was chosen for his political views. Assuming he is confirmed, the Supreme Court will then consist of 4 liberal-leaning justices, 4 conservative-leaning, and 1 moderate (Anthony Kennedy).  With this composition, I think it unlikely that Trump will get his way and see Roe v Wade overturned quickly. The danger comes later, if Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is 84, and Anthony Kennedy, age 81 decide to retire before Trump leaves office.  If he has the opportunity to appoint two more justices, then all bets are off.  Stay tuned …

Dumb, Dumber and … Betsy DeVos

Senate confirmation hearings for Trump’s cabinet picks have been underway since January 10th, and frankly do not seem to be going well, overall.  Under normal circumstances, I would say that at least 75% of his selections will be unconfirmed, but as we are all aware, we are in the post-truth, topsy-turvy world of Trump, and nothing is normal.  Trump was hoping all his nominations to be confirmed today, the day of his inauguration, but Republicans in Congress were more realistically hoping for seven confirmations today. I will be very surprised to see that happen.

Technically, his nominations cannot be put to a vote by the senate until after Trump takes the oath of office at noon.  Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer has indicated that the only two that will be voted upon today are:

  • Retired Marine Corps General James Mattis, Trump’s nominee for Defense secretary
  • Retired Marine Corps General John Kelly, Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security

Ethical questions about the others will likely keep their nominations from coming to a vote just yet, if ever.  Tom Price, the nominee for Health and Human Services secretary has been questioned about his investments in health care stocks. Then there are Mick Mulvaney, the nominee for budget director who failed to pay required taxes for a babysitter; Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO and secretary of State nominee who has refused to recuse himself from future issues involving the company; and Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner and Trump’s nominee for treasury secretary, who failed to disclose $100 million in assets on forms he gave the Senate Finance Committee. As Senator Schumer remarked, “The president-elect is not draining the swamp … he’s filling it up.”  I would agree … filling it with rich, white, greedy men and women. Republicans, who hold a 52-seat-majority in the Senate, need only 51 votes to confirm Trump’s nominees. However, Democrats have the power under Senate rules to drag out the process by insisting on days of debate before a vote.

Interestingly, nominees Mattis, Pompeo, Tillerson and Kelly all veered somewhat from Trump’s positions in their confirmation hearings last week on issues of trade, border security, foreign policy, Iran, and — perhaps most frequently — Russia.  But that is a story for another day, as today I wish to use my time and words to address one nominee and her hearing, specifically Betsy DeVos.  I recently wrote about DeVos and her high level of incompatibility and incompetence for the job of Secretary of Education.  The woman has never been either a teacher or an administrator, never even attended public schools, has worked to take funding away from public schools for charter schools and private/religious school vouchers.  Presumably Trump’s reason for nominating her was, a) the fact that she and her husband are billionaires many times over, and b) that she is the least qualified person he could find for the position.  Both of those seem to be his leading criteria in most of his selections.

Ms. DeVos has taken a page from Trump’s playbook … the page that says “answer no question directly, but always circumvent.” Let us take a quick look at some of the answers she gave to questions during her three-and-a-half hour confirmation hearing:

Q: “Can you commit to us tonight that you will not work to privatize public schools or cut a single penny from public education?”

DeVos: “I’m hopeful that we can work together to find common ground and ways that we can solve those issues and empower parents to make choices on behalf of their children that are right for them.”

I told you … she took a page right out of Trump’s playbook! Never, ever, give a direct answer.


Q: “Do you think that guns have any place in or around schools?”

DeVos: “I think that’s best left to locales and states to decide. I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”

It happens that the Senator who asked this question was Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, where, in 2012, a gunman shot and killed 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Really smart answer, Betsy.


Q: “Do you think K-12 schools that receive federal funding should meet the same accountability standards, outcome standards?”

DeVos: “Yes. Although, you have different accountability standards between traditional public schools and charter schools.”

Q: “And, if confirmed, will you insist upon that equal accountability in any K-12 school or educational program that receives federal funding whether public, public charter or private?”

DeVos: “I support accountability.”

Q: “Equal accountability for all schools that receive federal funding.”

DeVos: “I support accountability.”

Q: “Okay, is that a yes or a no?”

DeVos: “That’s a, ‘I support accountability.’ “

Q: “Do you not want to answer my question?”

DeVos: “I support accountability.”

Can we say “I am a broken record, I am a broken record, I am a broken record …”? It is to be noted that DeVos fought against accountability and oversight for charter schools in the past.


Q: “Should all K-12 schools that receive taxpayer funding be required to meet the requirements of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act?”

DeVos: “I think that is a matter that’s best left to the states.”

Q: “So some states might be good to kids with disabilities, and other states might not be so good. And then, what?”

DeVos: “I think that’s an issue that’s best left to the states.”

Q: “What about the federal requirement? It’s a federal law — the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. Let’s limit it to federal funding. If schools receive federal funding should they be required to follow federal law — whether they’re public, public charter, or private?”

DeVos: “I think that is certainly worth discussion.”

Q: “So were you unaware, when I just asked you about the IDEA, that it was a federal law?”

DeVos: “I may have confused it.”

Filosofa has no comment on this because … she is still picking her jaw up from the floor.

Though full transcripts of the Q&A portion of the hearings are not available at this time, I suggest for more of DeVos’ questions and answers, you check out this article in NPR … it is the most comprehensive I was able to find.

Surely nobody, after hearing three-and-a-half hours of this gibberish, can believe that this woman is in the least bit qualified to make top-level decisions regarding our public school system!  I was already convinced, based on my research into her background and policy stances, that she was unqualified, but if I had doubts, this hearing would have put them all to rest.  This woman is among the most unqualified of Trump’s nominees to perform a job that is arguably one of the most important to the survival of our democracy.  I hope that there are at least three Republican senators out of 52 who are willing to stand up for what is right, stand up for the future of this nation, follow their conscience and refuse to confirm Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.

Da Clapper vs. Da Trumpeter

“Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to “leak” into the public. One last shot at me.Are we living in Nazi Germany?”

That was Wednesday morning’s tweet from none other than Donald Trump, in response to the majority of the mainstream media reporting on certain information contained in a document that the intelligence chiefs had imparted to President Obama and also Trump on Tuesday.  How did the media get the story?  I neither know nor really care at this moment, but Trump’s angry response was not well received, especially by the Jewish community who say the analogy to Nazi Germany was erroneous, offensive and denigrating to Holocaust survivors. They are demanding that he apologize for it. I agree. If the man ever engaged his brain prior to engaging his fingers ….

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, of the Anti-Defamation League, said that Mr. Trump’s analogy was “not only an inappropriate comparison on the merits, but it also coarsens our discourse. We have a long record of speaking out when both Democrats and Republicans engage in such overheated rhetoric. It would be helpful for the president-elect to explain his intentions or apologize for the remark.”  However, Trump chose instead to heap insult on top of injury in his press conference later on Wednesday, blaming the intelligence agencies for allowing the release of what he said was erroneous information about him and saying, “I think it’s a disgrace, and I say that — and I say that, and that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.”

James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, attempted to reach out to Trump, despite Trump’s highly inappropriate temper tantrum:

clapper

James Clapper, DNI

“This evening, I had the opportunity to speak with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss recent media reports about our briefing last Friday. I expressed my profound dismay at the leaks that have been appearing in the press, and we both agreed that they are extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security.

We also discussed the private security company document, which was widely circulated in recent months among the media, members of Congress and Congressional staff even before the IC became aware of it. I emphasized that this document is not a U.S. Intelligence Community product and that I do not believe the leaks came from within the IC. The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable [emphasis added], and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions. However, part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.

President-elect Trump again affirmed his appreciation for all the men and women serving in the Intelligence Community, and I assured him that the IC stands ready to serve his Administration and the American people.”

James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence 

tactAnd with that, the dispute between Trump and the Intelligence community is put to rest, right?  WRONG!  The next day, Trump tweeted: “James Clapper called me yesterday to denounce the false and fictitious report that was illegally circulated. Made up, phony facts.Too bad!”  Oh come on, Donnie-boy … what do you want, the man to lick your bloomin’ boots?  Note that Mr. Clapper, whose integrity I respect more than that of Trump, specifically said that the intelligence community had made no judgment on the reliability of the document.  NO JUDGMENT. 

My hope is that the information contained in the document is either verified or proven false before January 20th, less than a week, because I suspect that the investigation will be quietly dropped once Trump takes office.  James Clapper will leave his position at the end of the Obama administration, and, pending senate confirmation, will be replaced by Trump’s nominee, Dan Coats.

dan-coats

Dan Coats

Dan Coats is a two-term senator from Indiana who is well-liked and respected by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle.  He may well be one of the better of Trump’s selections. While fiscally conservative, he has often found common cause with Democrats, who described him as thoughtful on intelligence and national security issues, with a sharp intellect and disarming humor. “I have always been impressed with his demeanor,” said Senator Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and who served on the Intelligence Committee with Mr. Coats and traveled with him in Eastern Europe. “He’s not a fierce partisan and knows the intelligence community. He’s very amiable and easy to work with.”

The job of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) is to coordinate the intelligence-gathering and analysis of the country’s 16 civilian and military spy agencies, helping to prevent a terrorist attack and serving as a central liaison to presidents and their White House staff.

A bit about his political views:

  • He has supported several pieces of gun-regulation legislation, including the Biden-Thurmond Violent Crime Control Act of 1991 which would have created a waiting period for handgun purchases and placed a ban on assault weapons, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, and the Feinstein Amendment 1152 to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1993.
  • Coats was one of the authors of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and opposed its 2011 repeal. He does not support same-sex marriage.
  • Coats pressed President Barack Obama to punish Russia harshly for its March 2014 annexation of Crimea. For this stance, Coats and several other lawmakers were banned from travelling to Russia.
  • Coats cosponsored, with former Senators Edward M. Kennedy, Christopher Dodd, and James Jeffords the Human Services Reauthorization Act of 1998, which amended the Head Start Act, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Act of 1981, and the Community Services Block Grant Act… in order to provide an opportunity for persons with limited means to accumulate assets.”

He received the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America’s Charles G. Berwind Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. He also frequently donates to charity and has helped underprivileged youth. I am quite surprised that he is Trump’s choice for DNI, as he seems too moderate and too humanitarian to fit into the regime.  I disagree with his stance on LGBT, but apart from that, I see very little not to like about Mr. Coats.  This is one whom I would actually like to see confirmed.

So much political news to opine about these days … my mind and body cannot keep up!  I am getting calluses on my fingertips from pounding the keyboard and am considering buying a second laptop as backup when I finally kill this one.  I was particularly amused by a comment I saw on Facebook earlier today: “These last few weeks have been the longest 4 years of my life.”  I share that sentiment.